News Column

Glass works mix styles in Shadyside exhibit

July 13, 2014

By Kurt Shaw, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

July 13--Featuring the work of a dozen individual artists and one collaborative married couple, the exhibit "Synthesis2: Fusing & Kilnforming" at Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery in Shadyside shows the wonderful results that can arise from the painterly technique of glass fusing and kilnforming.

Both are ancient techniques but newly re-popularized, in which glass is altered, fused, shaped or textured by the heat of a kiln, then often shaped in molds or slumped into forms. Such versatility is evident in the works on display, which range from the purely abstract to more representational forms.

Some, like Steve Immerman's piece "Cubicle," straddle the line between both. Looking something like a futuristic chessboard, it's part of Immerman's "Network" series, which explores people and relationships.

"The grid represents the rules of society and behavior that constrain us, and the blocks are individuals caught on a game board with no real guides," says the artist who hails from Eau Claire, Wis., where he works as a surgeon.

The blocks are moveable, so that the owner can position them as desired. Immerman says the blocks represent groups of people, or individuals trapped in their environment. The upper surface of the board is fairly bland in color, but the undersurface is very colorful. Just a hint of that can be seen from the edge. "If you look underneath, or illuminate (it) from below, you'll get an entirely different picture," Immerman says.

Some pieces in the exhibit are even more intricate in terms of fused patterns.

Patti and Dave Hegland, who live in the small artsy town of Chestertown on Maryland'sEastern Shore, display "Orange Slice," a bowl from their "Arrows Series."

"We named the piece 'Orange Slice' as a play on both the technical construction approach we used for this piece, which consists of laying out hundreds of strips or slices of glass to form the overall design structure, and the spherical shape with the embedded, hand-pulled orange-colored murrine (colorful glass cane) which conjures up an image of an actual 'orange,' " Patti Hegland says.

The result is a fun, happy, yet very sophisticated, bowl.

Taking a more direct approach, Dorothy Hafner of Norwalk, Conn., displays "Wanderlust," a purely abstract piece inspired by her travels.

"I have done much traveling in my lifetime and this piece is from a series I began a few years ago called 'Journey,' " Hafner says. "It is a compilation of my remembered vistas, many from the seat of an airplane."

Hafner says the trigger for this particular piece was a flight over Holland when the tulip fields were in bloom. "The land was a veritable patchwork of brilliant colors that went on for miles, and I will never forget such astonishing beauty," she says. "Elsewhere are the verdant rolling hills I recall from biking across England and Scotland, the vibrant sunsets I have witnessed, and the airplane runway that has launched me on my many journeys."

Add to that a "tangerine bridge and rainbow pathway." Hafner says the entire piece connotes her theme of journey and ongoing travels.

Amanda Simmons' large glass vessel "Swallows Flight" was made after attending a residency at North Lands Creative Glass in Caithness, Scotland. This kiln-formed piece is about creating a "beacon" for the abandoned croft houses in rural Scotland, where Simmons lives in a tiny village called Corsock in Dumfries and Galloway, southwest Scotland.

The purpose of this beacon, Simmons says, is "to bring the people back to the land just like the returning swallows that live half the year in the empty buildings and also in my studio."

"I spend many hours at my kiln building intricate layers of glass powders whilst the swallows watch on, chattering and swooping above my head," she says. "When the piece is lit well, you can see these flight paths illuminated."

Finally, gallery regular Steve Klein returns with "Exploration 187," part of a series he has been working on since 2000.

"The series explore relationships through line, shape and color," Klein says. Comprised of a colorful sphere and wavy plane, both pieces are dependent on one another to make up the complete composition.

"These works, while exploring relationships, always have influences and inspirations that move me or affect my life," he says. "This particular piece is inspired by an incredible sunset that I saw last summer. The colors were varied, incredibly bold and enveloped the entire sky. The format is influenced by the paintings of Hans Hofmann."

The artist's works reflect a profound change in direction after he moved 70 miles north of Seattle from Southern California six years ago.

"Prior to that move, most of my work was black and white," Klein says. "When I used color, it was always monochromatic. Now, I'm surrounded by nature and color. Even the skies are colorfully dramatic. Much of my current work is a celebration of the color that makes me feel good every day."

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at


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